Party’s Statements Under The Rule Of Completeness Were Irrelevant

Second Circuit concludes the rule of completeness did not require the admission of a defendant’s redacted statements, which were offered to show he lacked the intent to kill, since the statements were not relevant to the charges, in United States v. Kopp, 562 F.3d 141 (2d Cir. April 6, 2009) (per curiam) (No. 07-2797-CR)

Statements by a party may be admitted when “offered against a party” but are hearsay when offered by a party, under FRE 801(c) and FRE 801(d)(2). When one party redacts the opposing party’s statements for introduction at trial, the opposing party may seek to admit the redacted portions. The Second Circuit recently considered the operation of the rule of completeness on a party’s request to introduce the redacted portion of the statements.

In the case, defendant Kopp proceeded to trial on charges for intentionally inflicting on a doctor, who was a provider of reproductive health services, an injury resulting in death, and for carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence. The government moved to introduce a redacted version of his statements. The defendant argued the redacted portions should be admitted to show he lacked intent to kill the doctor. The trial court denied the motion. The defendant was convicted and sentenced to life and a ten year term of imprisonment. On appeal, he claimed the exclusion of his entire statement was erroneous.

The Second Circuit affirmed the admission of the redacted statements. The circuit noted that the rule of completeness, under FRE 106, permitted “an omitted portion of the statement” to “be placed in evidence if necessary to explain the admitted portion, to place the admitted portion in context, to avoid misleading the jury, or to ensure fair and impartial understanding of the admitted portion.” Kopp, 562 F.3d at 144 (citing United States v. Johnson, 507 F.3d 793, 796 (2d Cir. 2007) (alteration and internal quotation marks omitted), cert. denied, 128 S. Ct. 1750 (2008)). The redacted statements were irrelevant under FRE 401, and therefore inadmissible under the rule of completeness. Kopp, 562 F.3d at 144 (citing United States v. Jackson, 180 F.3d 55, 73 (2d Cir. 1999) (noting the rule of completeness “does not, however, require the admission of portions of a statement that are neither explanatory of nor relevant to the admitted passages.”)). As the circuit explained:

“Section 248 requires only that Appellant have acted with intent to injure Dr. Slepian because he had provided reproductive health services. And although the death of Dr. Slepian was relevant to the punishment permitted by § 248, as the statute allows for a sentence of life imprisonment ‘if death results,’ 18 U.S.C. § 248(b), the statute does not require that the death have been the intended result. Moreover, Section 924(j) requires only that the government prove that Appellant acted with malice, i.e., that he demonstrated a ‘heightened disregard for human life’ when he shot Dr. Slepian. The redacted portions of Appellant’s statements, which Appellant argues ‘unequivocally demonstrated that he did not intend to kill Dr. Slepian,’ thus had no bearing on the jury’s consideration of either statute.”
Kopp, 562 F.3d at 144 (citations and footnote omitted)]

Alternatively, any error was harmless in the absence of any prejudice. Kopp, 562 F.3d at 144 n.2. The defendant introduced other evidence that he did not intend to kill the doctor, including during his testimony when he elected to testify.

For another post addressing the rule of completeness and redacted statements, see Evidence Lesson: A Party Wishing To Offer Its Own Exculpatory Statements Must Testify.

Photograph: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Thurgood Marshall United States Court House, New York City, NY (depicted in 1936)

Federal Rules of Evidence
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